The Great Escape 2019
The Great Escape seems to have become a fixed date in my calendar. My first time was after I’d been to SXSW and it didn’t compare favourably. I found it was difficult to jump about between venues as they were often a good distance away, and you would often get to the venue to find it full. After several TGEs, I now tackle them differently with a lower expectation. I now see it as a short break with some music and don’t stress about rushing between venues or missing a band.
For the last few years I’ve started my TGE on the Wednesday. It means I can start at midday on the Thursday and there’s usually some music on in Brighton the night before anyway. This year as no different. Well I say no different, I actually mean sadly, was different.
Just before Christmas, one of my favourite Brighton venues, Sticky Mike’s announced it was closing. This is my usual Wednesday night and end of festival hang-out. There was some good news, when they announced that they would be using the East Street Tap as their new venue, one of my favourite pubs in Brighton. It turned out to be bad news as the regular student crowd who seemed to occupy upstairs at Sticky Mike’s have migrated to the much smaller East Street Tap and throughout the weekend I struggled to get in. The nearest was stranding on the stairs to the upstairs venue/
Losing Sticky Mike’s is a sad loss.
Despite its closure. There was still some things happening on the Wednesday with some bands playing the main festival hub, some free events at the Green Door Store and the Prince Albert
Unlike last year. I didn’t have a photo pass. Okay, I’m not shooting for a magazine or online website. But I’m the sort of person they should be giving a pass to. I’m not overly bothered by the big acts. I’m happy to photograph the next generation and throughout the weekend, the venues I was in, were devoid of official photographers unless there was ‘hype’ behind the band. What’s the point of having the same acts photographed by a few dozen photographers? Because of this, I left most of my kit at home and just took a few primes and a fallback camera in case security were being sniffy.
The festival itself kicked off in fine style with Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird. An Aussie band who played a nice slice of infectious pop-indie. They even made a ‘keytar’ sound good.
Deciding on getting in an early banker and positioning myself for the walk up to Horatios, I headed down to see the amazing playing of Gwenifer Raymond. If you haven’t seen there. She’s pretty amazing on the guitar and banjo.
The Russians had invaded Horatios on the pier and I headed up to hear Lucidvox, a band that had played London earlier in the week with positive reviews. Sadly, there were sound issues that effected the two bands I saw.
After a few misses, I decided to see one of my favourite live bands, Avalanche Party. Playing the tiny Black Lion pub as part of the Alternative Escape, they still managed to put on an excellent show that was appreciated by the packed pub.
Bumping into some friends, they had mentioned that Giungla had impressed in the afternoon. So I headed into the sea wall to catch her. I have to say I was really disappointed.
Venues seemed to be busier this year. By the middle of the first day it was already proving to be difficult to move around. Venues, I usually found easy to get into were often full, so I headed to see the Murder Capital early and had caught, Jockstrap. They are members of Black Country New Road but this offshoot band, really didn’t work for me.
There was a lot of hype around the Murder Capital. They had been heavily supported by Steve Lamacq and were coming through on the tails of the Idles and Fontaines D.C. What surprised me the most though, was how different the band are to those two bands. Fontaines have the poetry. Idles have the politics. The Murder Capital are your dark emotions. Every song brooded with an intense emotional centre and was something I was completely unprepared for. Easily the highlight of the festival.
After the emotion of the Murder Capital I decided to take it easy and find a seated venue and caught a band called MarthaGunn. They were okay. Almost an Americana twinge to their indie.
Day 2 started with a highlight. Dry Cleaning are one of my favourite bands at the moment. They mix interesting stories with some brilliant windy guitars.
After a few okay bands, one of the great things about TGE happened. I stumbled upon a band I didn’t know were playing. Walking past the Hope and Ruin, I could hear the brilliant sound of Snapped Ankles. It was one in one out, but the windows were open so I stood and watched and they came over to see me!
I had heard good things about the Petrol Girls. A punk band focused on feminist issues. Not sure I’m the core market but the post punk word at the moment seems to be missing female bands. However, while they put on a good performance, it was all too shouty shouty, rather than shouty singing, or shouty talking, as is the norm with post-punk. They are definitely more of a punk band and they didn’t work for me.
The other thing I like with TGE (when the weather is good) is how they give busking spaces to local artists if you have time, it’s always worth stopping and listening.
Often at this year’s TGE, I went for safe bands who I’d seen before. Saint Agnes are one of those safe bands. They always put in a brilliant performance. They were playing in the alt-Escape and as expected they were great.
Venues were getting busy and I decided to opt out of queuing and headed down see another set from Gwenifer Raymond in a seated venue. (I must be getting old).
As I was chatting to a friend, I stayed on for the next band, Ferris and Sylvester who played blues rock. At times it was a bit saccharine but I enjoyed the set.
It was getting late and Black Honey were playing a very late set at the Haunt after most places had closed. I thought it would probably be a complete waste queuing. Luckily I got in to catch the last few songs and them having a complete ball playing their home town.
Day 3 started with another banker. I’m a big fan of John J Presley’s blues. He’s got such an expressive voice and distinctive guitar. It was also good to see him reverting back to having a band as they add an extra depth to his music.
Queuing was much more an issue this year. You had to get there early for the hyped bands and there was no bigger hyped band this year than Black Midi. As The Ninth Wave were playing before hand, I queued up and caught both bands play good sets.
Wanting to take it easier, I headed back to the alt-Escape and grabbed a pint and the opportunity to catch Dutch Mustard who I’ve caught in London a few times
After heading out and finding all the nearby venues full, I returned to the Black Lion and was fortunate to catch another enjoyable performance from the Pagans SOH. They mixed rap, funk and rock in a very enjoyable way with a charismatic lead singer.
After the Pagans I bounced around with no one in particular standing out.
I have to admit. I was a bit more knackered at this festival than usual. I was also getting sick of queuing. As I’d hit SXSW in a big way and seen lots of new music. I decided to take it easy and stick to a venue. The Green Door Store seemed to have the best lineup with Big Joannie, Porridge Radio, and Peggy Sue, all of whom I’ve seen before. They were all good and Porridge Radio, played the best set I’ve seen from them. But it was Stonefield, a group of sisters who I assume grew up in a house with only Paranoid by Black Sabbath to listen to, who really impressed.
Sadly after the Green Door Store finished their programme, it wasn’t possible for my traditional trip to Sticky Mikes to catch their late-night off-festival bands and it was time to grab a few pints before calling it a relatively early night. Losing Sticky Mikes is definitely a loss to Brighton.
All in all. Another good TGE. It’s disappointing that the venues continue to spread out with what seemed like an increase queue time at each and the risk of walking half way across town to find TGE’s app’s busy status hadn’t been updated. Sadly, the ability to move around is reducing. Hopefully, next year they can rebalance the mix of venues. But I will be back again next year.